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Oregon State University’s College of Business is making a major push in Portland, with a new office in the Pearl District and, starting this fall, new MBA tracks in innovation management and supply chain and logistics management.

Courting the Portland area makes sense from a population standpoint, said Mitzi Montoya, Dean of the College of Business.

“Portland has a lot of working professionals who are looking to continue their education,” she added.

The area is home to nearly half of the state’s 3.9 million residents, as well as many of Oregon’s most prominent businesses and plenty of new and growing companies. It also doesn’t hurt that 25 percent of OSU’s alumni live in Portland, Montoya acknowledged.

The expansion into Portland is also about OSU’s responsibility to create access for continuing education, Montoya said. “That’s part of the land grant mission,” she said.

One reason the MBA is an area of high demand and need is that many professionals in Portland might have great background in the tech, food, design or health sectors, but lack the formal business education or need a credential for promotion.

“They are now moving into roles where they need to lead people, balance budgets and drive profits and they need to learn these new skills,” Montoya said.

Last fall, Oregon State had about 300 MBA students in Portland, Corvallis and at the Cascades campus in Bend. Portland had nearly 50 of those students, but Montoya anticipated that would increase.

“I see there is growth potential, but, again, it’s never predictable … what the market response will be,” she said.

Hybrid program

While there are plenty of potential students, Portland also has plenty of competition, with a handful of other MBA programs. But OSU has a unique advantage in that its five MBA offerings are hybrid programs, where students do 80 percent of their coursework online.

“The graduate education market has evolved significantly over the years. Students primarily are working professionals and they need flexibility in how they access their graduate education,” Montoya said.

With OSU’s hybrid program, “They don’t have to sacrifice their career to go back to school and they don’t have to give up their Saturdays,” Montoya said.

WeWork building

While the occasional classes are held in the South Waterfront at the Collaborative Life Sciences Building, the College of Business’ office in Portland is at the WeWork building in the Pearl District.

WeWork is a chain of office buildings that house multiple businesses, often startup companies, and feature common spaces and shared equipment and amenities.

Students looking to create their own businesses in the Launch Corps program, which is part of the MBA innovation management track in Portland, will get office space at the WeWork building. And Montoya said there will be opportunities for collaboration there, as well.

MBA history, future

OSU has been part of the graduate business education scene in Portland since 1985, when it started an executive MBA program in conjunction with Portland State University and the University of Oregon.

That came to a halt in 2013 due to a desire from each institution to move forward in its own way, Montoya said.

OSU took a brief hiatus and came back with a pharmacy doctorate MBA in collaboration with Oregon Health and Science University and a hybrid MBA track in organizational leadership. That was followed by business analytics earlier in fall 2015.

The College of Business also offers a graduate certificate in financial planning in Portland.

In 2017, the College of Business will add another MBA track in design for Portland, which could be useful for professionals in design or creative disciplines. And Portland is a hotbed for creative types, Montoya said.

There should be strong interest in the apparel segment, as Portland happens to be the home of Nike and Columbia and is the North American headquarters of Adidas.

More MBA tracks could be added with demand, Montoya said.

Other programs

OSU has other programs in Portland, including the College of Pharmacy, which has more than 160 students and close to 50 faculty, staff and research personnel in the Collaborative Life Sciences Building. PSU and OHSU also use the structure.

At the north end of Portland’s Willamette River waterfront is the Food Innovation Center, which opened in 2000 and is jointly operated by the Oregon Department of Agriculture and OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. A large part of the center’s work in recent years has been helping Oregon companies bring new products to market.

The College of Veterinary Medicine also has students do clinical rotations with the Oregon Humane Society and the Office of Research has partnerships with dozens of companies operating in Portland.

Alumni power

Perhaps the most powerful asset in the Portland area for OSU is the alumni base.

OSU is working to cultivate a stronger relationship with Portland alumni by having more events up north, such as the 2016 State of the University address, which President Ed Ray delivered in February.

The university also started holding major awards ceremonies in Portland and last December, OSU revived the Far West Classic, a holiday season basketball tournament.

In part, these efforts to engage the alumni are critical from a fundraising perspective. The Portland-metropolitan area accounted for a third of donor support during the Campaign for OSU, the university’s recently completed billion-dollar fundraising effort.

But Montoya said OSU’s alumni are important as mentors, as well.

“We have this incredible alumni network that is very engaged, very supportive of our current students,” Montoya said, adding that many of those graduates are executives in the Portland area.

That opens up opportunities like educational presentations, job shadows, internships or just providing advice for professional development.

Reporter Bennett Hall contributed to this story.

Kyle Odegard can be reached at kyle.odegard@lee.net, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard. 

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